Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Sighting of great white shark closes beach

Bernadette Lina and her dad, Roland, were less than 300m from the shore when they saw the massive shark leap from the water, just metres from their jetski.

They say the huge fish was a 6m-long great white.

The pair rushed to shore and alerted lifeguards. Swimmers were immediately cleared from the sea.

"We saw this big thing come out of the water with gaping teeth," Bernadette said. "I was scared I was going to fall off and it would eat me.

"It did a flip and had a white belly and I saw its fins. It was definitely a great white."

Mr Lina, a New Plymouth real estate agent, was worried the shark might flip the jetski, but remained calm for his daughter's sake. "Then I got the hell out of there."

On a recent trip by the family to the Bay of Islands, a pod of orca whales had played around their boat for about an hour. Mr Lina said they were about 6m long.

"The shark was the same size. It did a bit of a dolphin display – it was like Flipper."
The fish then headed towards the Sugar Loaf Islands.

His wife, Linda Simpson-Lina, was at the Oakura Beach Holiday Park, oblivious to what was happening out at sea.

"I said to them before they left, `Watch out Jaws doesn't get you', but I said it as a joke."
Mark Hopkins, of New Plymouth, was staying at the campsite for the weekend.

"I happened to look out (from the camp) and saw a massive splash," he said.

He was sure it was the shark crashing back into the sea: "It's a bit of a pain, because it's perfect for windsurfing, but I'm too scared to go out there."

New Plymouth Old Boys Surf Lifesaving Club captain Bruce MacDonald said there were about 50 people swimming between the flags and a few outside the patrolled area at the time of the scare.
Warning signs were erected, police were contacted and the IRB was dispatched to look for the fish.

"People came out of the water in a calm and orderly manner. There were several sightings of the shark leaping around."

He said the club could not force people to stay out of the water and a few ventured back in.
"Very rarely do we ever close beaches around the country, but we've got an exceptional instance with this shark in Taranaki waters."

Although the threat of a shark attack was minimal, it was the club's responsibility to discourage people from swimming, he said.

"We don't like scaremongering, but it wouldn't look good at all if we knew of the threat and didn't do anything about it and somebody was taken."

New Plymouth Mayor Peter Tennent was one of the swimmers at Oakura Beach on Saturday.
"We were having a swim with everyone else and the surf club told us, `You'd be swimming with a great white, make your own decision', and everyone got out of the water," he said.

He said the incident caused much excitement and everybody was talking about the shark afterwards. The beach was reopened at 5pm.

Jeff O'Neill, of New Plymouth, arrived at the beach about 5.20pm. He heard about the shark sightings, but was not put off going for a quick dip. "I just thought, I'm not going out too deep."
There were aircraft and a helicopter, thought to be privately owned, circling above the beach to check out the action.

Surf Life Saving Taranaki development officer Guy Honnor said there were no reports of shark sightings at other beaches in the region during the weekend.

He advised people to stay within the flags and not swim past the breakers.

Mr MacDonald said people were back swimming at Oakura Beach yesterday, with numbers about normal for a hot day.

There have been several sightings of the shark, dubbed the Taranaki Terror.

A week ago, the Department of Conservation issued warnings to swimmers, saying there was at least one large great white in North Taranaki waters.

Marine scientists issued fresh warnings last Wednesday when they failed to tag the shark. During their mission, they saw a shark, at least 4m long, dive out of the water near Seal Rock, off Port Taranaki.

The last time Oakura Beach was closed was in 1966, when 14-year-old Rae Keightley was attacked by a shark while swimming.

It is the only known fatality from a shark attack in Taranaki.


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